My Gift to the Class of 2020


As I recently sifted out some old and unneeded files, I found a document that really pleased me. Evidently, one of my Abilene High School seniors from the 2002-2003 school year had asked me to participate in a graduation project required by one of her other teachers. Although I didn’t remember this project, my introductory comments for the student indicate that she had invited me to participate in her quest for wisdom, insight, and guidance as she entered the next stage of her life. 

Realizing that many 2020 graduating seniors will miss the traditional graduation ceremonies, and never at a loss for words, I discovered that even then, I eagerly shared a list of values that I still maintain today. I wish I had kept up with this student to learn whether or not my words eased some of her transitions in life, but alas, I did not. I can only hope that my mentoring stood her in good stead. My list of topics follows:

Education: For me, education provided the path to confidence, empowerment, and freedom. My own parents had little formal education, so I surprised them when I began school and fell in love with it. People should never pass up an opportunity for education, whether academic or practical. Consider teachers people who know things you need to know. Pick their brains to learn all you can. Use what you learn to form your own opinions and beliefs.

Relationships: Nothing in life surpasses the importance of your relationships.

  1. Respect parents and their roles in your life. You may not always agree with them, but you owe them thanks for giving you life. Some parents perform better than others; some may fall far short of the standard for parenting. Even so, they will most likely remain your parents for many years. You may even experience role reversals if they live long enough. I cared for my own parents as I hope my son will care for me in my old age.

 (b) Select friends carefully. Good and true friends are God’s gifts to us. 

(c) Use discretion when dating. You can “fall in love” with more than one person; don’t take the chance of falling in love with an unsuitable person. 

(d) If you marry, remember that love encompasses more than an emotion.  Committing to a life-long partner involves the mind and will. You will not feel in love all the time, but you can love all the time. 

(e) If you have children, do not expect them to fulfill all your dreams for them or for yourself. They belong to God, not you. Root your expectations and dreams in God’s will for your children, not your own. By the way, they will make mistakes—some tragic ones.  These mistakes do not imply bad parenting on your part or bad character on their parts; rather, they teach us that fallible human beings comprise this fallen world. Learn forgiveness—for others as well as yourself.

Finances: Live within your means. Possessions do not produce happiness, quality, or worth. Most of us need less than we have.

Keepsakes: Try to journal at least periodically. You will live through some events that may result in meaningful experiences for your loved ones. Avoid diaries with all your grievances and activities recorded; instead, keep a log of a spiritual journey you make for a purpose. For example, I once kept a journal for a year as I experienced a difficult time with depression. I hope that one day my son or granddaughter will discover that journal and know me in a new way. Also, keep visual records of your life and those you love. Time passes so quickly, and those pictures will preserve precious memories.

Literature: I have spent much of my life reading and studying great literature. I once heard someone remark that people will be different ten years from now because of the people they met and the books they read. The following books have enhanced my life:

  1. Little Women—Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel about the March family nurtured me through my childhood. I read the book every winter throughout my elementary and middle school years. I learned the importance of sacrificial love among family members from the March sisters and their mother.
  2. The Scarlet Letter—When I read this book for the first time during my junior year in high school, it profoundly affected me. I began to understand the complex nature of humanity. It taught me that everyone has sinned, but hardly anyone will admit it. I learned the great need for confession and honesty before God and other human beings. I learned that failure to forgive destroys. I learned that hypocrisy, a fatal flaw akin to hubris, kills authenticity and hinders meaningful relationships.  I learned that when people drop their masks, show the world their true selves, and stand spiritually naked before their fellow humans and God, they can begin their service to God.
  3. To Kill a Mockingbird—I really don’t know how anyone can live an entire life without reading this book. Harper Lee poured out her soul in writing this one great novel. A reader can learn almost any value worth learning by consuming this book.
  4. A Tale of Two Cities—Charles Dickens’ powerful book taught me the heights to which human love can reach. He uses Sydney Carton, a drunken and desperate lawyer, to illustrate that a human being can experience agape love by putting the lives of those he loves above all else. Agape goes to the cross, or in Carton’s case to the guillotine, to express its love.
  5. Hinds Feet on High Places—Hannah Hurnard’s allegory about following the Good Shepherd (God) to the high places taught me that submission to God might require many long, difficult, and dangerous detours along the way. Whenever I find myself a little prideful, I reread this story for a lesson in humility.
  6. Desiderata: Most scholars today attribute authorship to Max Ehrmann, who wrote the piece in 1927. I think the Desiderata contains enough wisdom to cure the world of its ailments—if only the readers had the discernment and humility to follow its precepts. You can read it at

Finding this old file has stirred my heart. Although I retired from teaching a number of years ago, I remember so many students and experiences we shared. I loved teaching and felt called to do it.  I hope that my life and teaching positively influenced the many students who sat in my classrooms for over thirty years. I know those students enriched my life immeasurably.

 Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing

One comment

  • Sandra K Tompkins

    Wonderful article and full of wisdom. I wish you could find this young lady and just see what kind of life she did have. I for one loved it even though I have been out of school for 50 years. I plan to share this so hopefully some graduating seniors will read it. Anxiously awaiting the next article. Love you!


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